Lent

I’m giving up “I can’t” for Lent.

It probably doesn’t sound like much, if you’re not blessed with a perfectionist, neurotic personality and an incredible amount of insecurities, like me. But the truth is, I find myself saying “oh, I can’t” a lot, when a more accurate phrase would be, “I don’t know how,” or “I’m not very good at this yet,” or “I’m afraid to fail so I just won’t try.” I like being in my comfort zone, which is a kind of small space, when I think about it–especially when I think about the kick-ass things I am capable of when I put my mind to it (like going for that PhD, even when it meant I had to move to Germany for it, or applying for the Tanner fellowship, even if that meant moving again, and starting over, again, by myself, again). In many ways, I am an incredibly strong woman, so why do I limit myself so often with that “I can’t?”

So I suppose I’m giving up that comfort zone up for Lent. This is not a yes experiment, and you will not see me sky diving or switching careers or anything. It’s attempt to spend forty days not limiting myself–or at least not out of fear. It’s an attempt to figure out what I really mean when I say “I can’t”: I won’t? I don’t want to? I don’t know how to? I’m scared to try?

Rachel Held Evans has forty ideas for Lent over at her blog, and she suggests the following questions to ask yourself, including

2. Is there a habit or sin in my life that repeatedly gets in the way of loving God with my whole heart or loving my neighbor as myself? How do I address that issue over the next 40 days?

5. How do I want Lent 2014 to affect not only the next 40 days but also the next 40 years?

And when I think about it, well, getting rid of those self-imposed restrictions that limit how I see myself, and by extension, others around me, and even God, seems to fit the bill pretty well.

If you’re giving something up this year, tell me what in the comments. If you’re still looking for a practice, I’d recommend the post I linked to for some very accessible ideas!

good morning, good morning, good morning

A month or so ago, I met with one of the priests in my local church to discuss confirmation/reception into the Episcopal Church. I felt much better about my presumed heterodoxy after that meeting, and came away with a few book recommendations as well. She also mentioned the following poem to me. It’s lovely and especially fitting for a Monday morning in which I had to drag myself out of bed.

Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver

Hello, sun.

this and that, the ephemeral edition

–Remember back when I got word I had been granted the Tanner fellowship, and I was so excited about the library privileges and private office that I said I didn’t care they weren’t offering me health benefits? Well, my sister E. pointed out the other day that I may have jinxed myself then and there, as I have never had as many health-related issues as this year, nor sent as many claims to my insurance. Oops.

–I am definitely not Babble’s target audience, as I saw a post on what to wear for Valentine’s Day, and I only thought, wait, Valentine’s Day has a dress code? Why do I not know that?

–I tried out two new coffee places last weekend. With other people. (That deserves it’s own sentence, grammatically incorrect as it is.) Look at me, being all social and stuff! Also, dad, if you ever feel like coming back to Salt Lake, I now know an abundance of places to go for coffee. (That should tempt him.)

–Sunday morning, in church, the priest offered a lovely homily on breaking down the walls that make for an us-vs-them mentality, and gave a shout out for economic and marriage equality in the process. I’m generally not very good at actually listening to the sermon, but the Episcopalian homilies are so nice and short even my attention span can handle it. (That’s saying a lot. The ‘hey look, a squirrel’ thing is very applicable to me.)

–The snow has melted here, and the weather is lovely and mild, and I’m using my bike again instead of relying solely on Trax. I’m knocking on wood here, as it’s only February and people have been warning me it can snow till unbelievably late in the year here, but it’s nice while it lasts.

–Tomorrow I’m indulging my inner nerd and going to see the Utah Symphony play at Abravanel Hall. Why? Because the concert is called The Magic of Harry Potter and there’s no way I’m going to miss that.

on nativity scenes

I’ve wanted a nativity scene for years. I’ve put off buying one, though, mostly because I’m never home for Christmas but usually at my mom’s or my dad’s for the three-day Christmas stretch (or, ahem, partnered with someone who does not see the merit in Christmas decorations). I saw these the other day and instantly fell in love.

Minimal-Nativity-Set-01-685x489

Minimal-Nativity-Set-05

both images via 22 Words

And then I saw this post over at Rachel Held Evan’s blog, talking about the difficulty of finding a “fair-trade, biblically-accurate, ethnically-realistic, reasonably-priced, child-safe” nativity scene. And while obviously RHE is spoofing this a little bit, it’s actually one of the reasons I liked the minimalistic sets so much–no dominant representation of what the Holy Family looked like, and when it comes to the colored blocks one, not even labels marking those as present. If only because, in our family, it would make perfect sense for a dinosaur to be there, too.

on being single in church

Some of you will know that I have a host of thoughts and feelings about being single, and especially being single in church. I came across this article, and found myself nodding at a lot of the points. Like these:

–Stop pretending you know what it’s like.

A lot of people seem to think that singleness is to marriage as junior varsity is to varsity. As a result, married people sometimes mistakenly believe that they know something about singleness when in fact they don’t. Singleness isn’t a junior varsity version of marriage. It’s an entirely different sport – and if you haven’t played it, you haven’t mastered it.  The average marrying age is 29.8 years for men and 26.9 for women. If you got married before these ages, then it makes sense to acknowledge that your experience as a single adult is below average. In other words, you don’t know a lot about singleness. This calls for humility.

This one always really gets me. If you’re with your high school sweetheart or got married in college, you have no idea what it’s like to navigate adulthood alone. So stop giving me advice, well-meant or not. I don’t tell you how to parent your kids, you don’t tell me how to be single.

–pastors that only talk about being single in terms of abstinence.

the pastor (who is quite the scholar) gave a profound, rousing sermon on the beauty and holiness of marriage. Even as a single person, I was inspired by his sophisticated, lovely depiction of a Christ-centered marriage. It was that good!

At the end of the 40 minute sermon, the pastor looked up from his notes and began to ad lib: “I know that over 40% of you are single, so I should probably say something about singleness as well.”

My ears perked up. Since this pastor was such a scholarly guy and since he had just given an exceptionally thoughtful sermon on marriage, I just knew that his brief thoughts on singleness would be equally profound. I leaned forward.

“Here’s what I want to say to all you single people: Don’t have sex before you get married. Then when you get married, make up for lost time. [wink, wink]”

Once the laughter died down, the pastor gave a benediction and returned to the pew where his wife awaited him.

Having your whole being, your hopes and dreams and ambitions and talents and all the things you’re doing right now, reduced to whether or not you’re sexually active? No. Just no.

–marriage as the norm.

Marriage is the norm, the gold standard. If you don’t adhere to it, people ask questions. Case in point: I’m out-and-about in the Christian world a lot these days. As a result, I meet new people all of the time. The fact that we’ve just met doesn’t stop Christians from asking me why I’m not married. Out of the blue, and with a quizzical look, they’re like, “How come you’re not married?” It’s my most frequently asked question. Seriously.

When I first got to Salt Lake City, one of the leaders of the small group asked me if I was in SLC by myself. (In her defense, I think she was trying to be tactful.) When I said yes, the conversation stopped. Because once you know I’m not married or partnered, there’s obviously nothing left to ask me about myself.

Or, the other day at church, when the minister talked about the importance of connections in a Christian life, and only offered up the sacrament of marriage as an example. Sure, because those of us not married are floating around, unconnected to other people.

–I’ll add one of my own: singleness is often talked about as a state you should end as soon as possible. You know, as much as I’d like to find my special someone (why else am I going on all these dates?), I have a pretty great life. I get to travel, I love what I do for a living, the library here is amazing, and I’m not living in Germany any more. All awesome things I wouldn’t give up for the world. And I’m not willing to partner up with someone who can’t keep up with me, even if that means waiting for a while longer. In the meantime, I can buy myself that KitchenAid, thank you very much. (Well, I could, if I weren’t a poor grad student. But you know what I mean.)

(Another great post about being single in church can be found here. I’d add my thoughts about her article to this list but this is long enough as it is.)

I’ll be Bach

On Friday, I went to the Good Friday service at the Reinoldikirche, mostly because they have their own Bach choir. I figured good music would make up for the parts of the sermon I couldn’t understand, and it did. Then, after lunch (and a dismayed look outside at the snow that was beginning to fall), I did some chores before heading over to the planetarium in Bochum. They do a Musik Matinee once a month, in which they feature music and a spectacular star show. For Good Friday, they were doing (parts of) the Matthäus Passion. And while it couldn’t beat an actual live performance, it was still pretty great to listen to the music, lie back in my chair, and watch the stars move above my head.

At least, until someone across the aisle fell asleep and starting snoring. And then, when woken up, starting talking to his friend, just loud enough to disturb those sitting around him. Luckily they decided about halfway through that it wasn’t really their thing and left.

I know, so random, but I giggle when I see it anyway.

I know, so random, but I giggle when I see it anyway.

In other news, my mom and sister are coming to Dortmund for Easter weekend. And as if that wasn’t good enough, my mom has loaded up the car with everything we might need this weekend and then some, meaning I do not have to think about groceries at all.

Which is probably a good idea because my apartment is no where near the standards I like my mom to think I adhere to and I think I need to spend most of the time till they get here cleaning. Although I doubt I’m fooling her. I remember when I was little, my mom has this rule that we had to keep our rooms clean enough to walk from the bed to the door. So I literally made a path for her–and on more than one occasion, I may have cleared little islands of carpet so you could jump from one to the other and technically make it to the bed. In many ways, I haven’t changed…although I like to pretend I’m an actual functioning adult these days. Fake it till you make it, or something.

Sunday morning

On Sunday, I was planning to visit an international church in Bochum, but then found out they were doing a Christmas pageant during the service in which the audience was encouraged to participate. The idea of not being able to sit in the back and observe kind of horrified an introvert like me, for whom walking up to the front to get communion is about the limit for a first visit. So I went to a nearby Catholic mass instead.

It was a nice enough service, but I don’t think I’ll be back. Although I love the sense of tradition inherent to the Catholic Church, the mass kept playing havoc with my Protestant sensibilities. However, the upside was that I got to light a candle, always a nice touch, and that it’s so close to my apartment that I managed to avoid getting drenched by the sudden downpour after the service, mostly because I was already home five minutes after the mass ended. So, you know, that’s good.

communion of saints

Micah over at Mama:Monk wrote a post on how thankful she was for her spiritual influences, doing her best to name the most significant. Then she asked us readers to think of ours. So in honor of Thanksgiving, here is my list.

gracecathedral.com

There were the people in my first church, who supported me and showed me what it meant to love a stranger. Their love gave me a home and led to my baptism and confirmation. Although that church was not good for me in the long run, it saved me in those early, difficult years.

There was the Canterbury at Cal group in Berkeley, who showed me what it’s like to live a non-poisonous life of faith. I was this close to quitting on faith and they are the ones who let me know I didn’t have to negate who I was to be a Christian, but that social justice was part and parcel of the whole deal. They’re also the ones who introduced me to the joy of liturgy–the one place I’m always sure I’ll find God.

There is my friend M. who showed me it does get better. She showed me that our struggles matter, our pain matters, and our redemption matters. She showed me how to get up every time you fall and that all you have to do is the best you can. Above all, she showed me how nothing that can happen to you can cancel out love.

There is my friend J., because he’s me, in many ways. I think too much to ever really be comfortable in church and meeting someone who does the same yet found a way to make it work makes me think I can do that too.

There’s Rachel Held Evans, who showed me what it means to both love and wrestle with the Bible. She let me know it’s okay not to be appeased by easy answers. She showed me what it means to be a woman of valor.

There were the many small group leaders I’ve had over the years, all offering me different things. D. and D. challenged me to become part of a group again. E. and J. welcomed me into their home and even stopped singing a particular psalm once they found out it triggered me into tears. M. and G. demonstrated how to live a life of integrity, no matter where you fall on the religious spectrum.

So there you go. These are the people I think of when I hear ‘communion of saints’. These are the people I try to emulate on my way to an authentic religious life. Who are yours?

back in Dortmund

On Saturday, I moved back to Dortmund. My father and sister were gracious enough to help me, though they looked a little aghast when they saw just how many boxes I’d filled with my stuff. (It’s like they don’t know me.) But we got the cars loaded and headed out after I said a tear-filled goodbye to B. As an aside, breaking up because you know it’s the right thing to do, even though you still love each other, has to be the weirdest thing on earth. I don’t really recommend it.

In Dortmund, after struggling up five flights of stairs, I found out my key wouldn’t fit in the lock. A lot of drama later (most of it in half-intelligble German), we figured out my (elderly) landlords had been worried about me, since I hadn’t been by in so long. They forced the lock to check I wasn’t lying dead in my apartment, although I think you would have smelled that if it had been the case. They were very apologetic about forcing the lock and I soon got the new key from my downstairs neighbor. So that was good.

I think the best part of this story is that when they entered the apartment to check I wasn’t dead, they saw my assorted Mormon paraphernalia. And then, my landlords being elderly and worried, they had a new fear. Maybe I had been kidnapped by the Mormons!

Needless to say, I think the Church needs to spend some time and money on PR over here.

 

 

 

jell-o

The one thing I could not abide in Provo was jello salad. I could do the honor code, the no-coffee thing, the knee-length-skirts and three hours of church. And funeral potatoes I whole-heartedly embraced. But jello salad? That was asking too much.

 

Which is why I was especially interested in reading this Slate article, “Mormonism’s Jell-O Mold”. The author comments on how

 

a gelatin-based snack food commonly associated with lowbrow cooking became the shining example of Utah cuisine. Where did this oddly specific stereotype come from, and what does it mean to label a group of people—especially a religious minority—with any one food?

 

Those of you interested in Mormonism, foodways, stereotypes, or marketing campaigns (or, like me, in all four) should check it out. I thought the author’s analysis was especially thought-provoking and I’d love to hear what you thought.